From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

Amid uncertainty over  the zoning of  the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 2023 presidential ticket, governors elected on the platform of the party and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are now neck-deep in an epic tussle over the control of the structure of the opposition party.

Apart from Atiku, others involved in the battle for the soul of the PDP ahead of the 2023 general elections include former Senate President, Bukola Saraki. All the gladiators have their eyes on the 2023 PDP presidential ticket. 

Atiku, Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto State governor), Ifeanyi Okowa ( Delta State governor), Nyesom Wike (Rivers State governor) and Bala Mohammed (Bauchi State governor), respectively are touted to be interested in the 2023 PDP presidential ticket.

Therefore, for the presidential hopeful, the PDP October 30-31 is first step to determine who will gain the upper hand in the contest.

The PDP Governors Forum smarting from the face-off between suspended party National Chairman, Uche Secondus and some members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) had taken charge of the opposition party to the chagrin of some stakeholders.

However, the governors have continued to call the shots in the opposition party.

The  recent zoning formula for party offices  was a fallout of the meeting of the PDP Governors Forum held in September. The governors during the meeting had voted for the chairmanship of the party to be zoned to the North.

The following day, the PDP Zoning Committee headed by Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, zoned the national chairmanship position of the party to the North, as well as recommended a swap of   party offices currently been occupied by the South and the North.

In the aftermath of the zoning, Atiku and Saraki vehemently protested the zoning of the chairmanship to the North, which they considered inimical to their presidential ambition. 

After the PDP NEC ratified the recommendation of the Ugwuanyi panel, both men worked assiduously to ensure that the national chairman does not come from their respective geo-political zones. Atiku and Saraki hail from the Northeast and North-central respectively..

Baraje Kawu, Saraki’s ally and former PDP chairman, had in a statement said that what the North wants is the presidential ticket and not the chairmanship position.

However, the northern PDP leaders, after series of meeting adopted former Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu, as the North’s consensus candidate for the chairmanship position.  The former Senate President had earlier been adopted as the consensus candidate of the North-central for the top party job.

Analyst say the emergence of Ayu has left Saraki with the short end of the stick, and apparently strengthened Atiku’s hand in the battle of supremacy in the opposition party. Ayu, a member of the defunct Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) is an ally of the former vice president, Atiku.

In the Southwest,  PDP leaders are on warpath over the distribution of party offices micro-zoned to the region. On one hand, in the tussle for supremacy is the Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde and on the other is a group of party leaders consisting of former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose; Senator Ademola Adeleke and Hon. Ladi Adebutu, former PDP governorship candidate in Osun and Ogun states respectively as well as Chief Deji Derhorty from Lagos State.

A source told Sunday Sun that Makinde wants former governor of Osun State to become the next deputy  national  chairman (South), but the Fayose group are routing for former PDP National Secretary, Wale Oladipo for the coveted position.

According to the source, “they are quarrelling. What the governor has done is that he has given publicity secretary to Ogun, with Segun Sowunmi; from what the governor had done, deputy national chairman is going to Osun Oyinlola. Makinde is looking for a way to placate Oyinlola over the national chairman issue

“They are saying the deputy national secretary will go to Ondo. But it is not clear who the governor is proposing.

“But Fayose, Ekiti; Adebutu, Ogun; Adeleke, Osun; and  Deji Doherty, Lagos; they are not accepting. Instead, they are pushing for Wale Oladipo to become the next deputy national chairman.”

Similarly, the PDP Governors Forum is pushing for the Director General of the forum, CID Maduabum, to become the next national secretary.

The national secretary, as well as the national auditor are the two positions tentatively micro-zoned to the Southeast. However, some party leaders in the zone are working to scuttle the emergence of Maduabum.

“The governors said they want Maduabum as national secretary. But some persons are objecting.That is where we are,” the source said.

Uncertainty over zoning of presidential ticket

Regardless, with the national chairmanship position seemingly settled, attention has now shifted to the zoning of the presidential ticket.

Ordinarily, with the PDP chairmanship position going to the North, the presidential candidate should automatically come from the South.

However, party leaders are singing a different tune. Several party chieftains, especially those from the North, want the ticket to be thrown open to all qualified persons.

Atiku, in his speech, at the 94th NEC of the party,  penultimate Thursday, had said that the party should be guided by justice, fairness and how to regain in deciding its next presidential candidate.

He noted that zoning is neither the problem nor solution to the problems of the country.

According to him, “the Peoples Democratic Party has the right to determine its rules on how the party should be governed. The people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them.

“Where the president comes from has never been the problem of Nigeria neither will it be the solution.  There is no such thing as a president of Southern Nigeria, or a president of  Northern Nigeria. There is only one president from Nigeria, for Nigeria, by Nigerians.”

And Atiku seems not to be the only one that shares this sentiment.

Former governor of Ekiti State, Segun Oni told Sunday Sun that the major concern of the PDP should be how to win the 2023 presidential poll.

According to Oni, an opposition party does not have the luxury of determining where his presidential candidate would come from.

The former governor said: “A party that is not in power, does not have the luxury of saying this is where I want my candidate to come from.They should be more interested in how they are going to get into power, because it is not a routine civil service matter – do it this way, conduct it this away, no.

“This is a tussle for power and you must adopt your best opportunities. So,  I believe that when the time comes, the party will examine every possibilities. And  whatever will bring us back to power in 2023 that is what we will go for. That should be my own advice.”

Also,   former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said that one cannot decide for the party where it will zone its presidential ticket, advising, however, that the PDP ensures there is justice in choosing its 2023 presidential standard bearer.

According to him, “our party, the PDP, should do everything to ensure that the person we put forward to contest election is the person who can win election. And by the grace of God, we are going to be guided by God and we will have victory.  I want to advise the party to ensure that justice is done and the person selected would be the person that will represent the best interest of the party and the country.”

Similarly, former PDP Deputy National Secretary, Dave Iorhemba told Sunday Sun that it would be wrong to ask anyone not to vie for the presidential ticket of the opposition party in 2023, because of where he or she comes from.

Iorhemba said that to do so would amount to an infringement of the person’s right.

He said that “you cannot take the political party arrangements to infringe on people constitutional  right. This ( presidential primary) is a free election, any person can vie for it, irrespective that the party chairmanship  is zoned to any zone. The people of that zone, it is their constitutional rights, you can’t infringe on it.”

Recall that the PDP 2019 Election Review Committee headed by the Bauchi governor, Bala Mohammed, had recommended that the presidential primary be thrown open to all interested aspirants.

However, the opposition party is yet to take a decision on the report, which was submitted in March.

In fact, the PDP NEC only opened discussions  on the Bala Mohammed Committee report on penultimate Thursday in the heat of protest over the zoning of the chairmanship position to the North.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said that the party would take a decision on the zoning of the presidential ticket in subsequent NEC meetings.

Nevertheless, Sunday Sun gathered that the PDP may eventually throw the presidential primary open to all interested aspirants.

And in the event that a northerner clinches the ticket, the party will re-zone party offices to accommodate the South. 

A reliable source in the party told Sunday Sun that the unofficial position of the PDP leaders  is that the North will produce the 2023 presidential candidate so as to brighten the chances of the opposition party in the election.

He noted that the PDP Southern governors, who voted for the North to produce the next chairman, apparently did so because of the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum that the next president should be a southerner.

He said: “The zoning  of the chairmanship to the North is just a game. Everyone knows that the unofficial position of the party is that the presidential ticket will be given to the North. The Southern governors, who voted for the chairmanship to go to the North were just playing to the gallery. They probably did that to be seen as keeping with the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum that the next president should come from the South.

“What is likely to  happen is that the presidential primary will be thrown open and a northerner will emerge. The calculation is that if the PDP wins the 2023 presidential election, the national chairman will step down and and there would be another convention where a southern will be elected as chairman.”

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